Acceptance & Approval

We hear much today about the need for acceptance.  We are told that we must accept people as they are without any reflection on their attitudes or their conduct.  We are told that it is intolerant to be critical of another person’s beliefs or practices.  We are told that we must not judge another’s lifestyle because no single way of life is superior to any others.  All the while, of course, anyone who dares speak of the objective standard of God’s word is berated and persecuted for being hateful and unloving.

The hidden agenda in this effort is to win approval for all kinds of deviant lifestyles and attitudes.  The way to do this is to get people first to tolerate a practice.  Once the practice is tolerated, then it becomes accepted.  Once accepted, it is then approved.  We see this playing out in the ongoing efforts of the homosexual lobby to bring homosexuality into the mainstream of society, and even of Christianity.

As a propaganda tactic, it is a stroke of genius, and it is working in our nation.  More and more of our young people have been conditioned to the point that they think nothing of the practice of homosexuality.  They bristle at the suggestion that such activity is wrong, because they have been taught that it is never wrong to love.  Political opportunists, the entertainment industry, and social media have all jumped on the bandwagon and have joined forces to demonize anyone and everyone who disagrees with their views.

Those who are believers are pressured from all sides to give in to this tide of opinion.  However, we must not surrender to it because the scriptures teach us that there is a difference between acceptance and approval.  Acceptance is an accommodation that we grant to one another when we have differences on matters of opinion.  In Rom. 14:1-23 Paul spoke of the need to accommodate a weaker brother whose conscience would not allow him to eat meat, or whose conscience led him to observe certain days in a religious manner while others did not.  The point in the discussion is that neither of these things is of eternal consequence.  Paul told the Christians in Rome that they should accept one another as brothers in Christ, in spite of these differences.  This acceptance, however, did not mean that they approved of those practices.  They simply allowed each other to hold his own personal opinions on these matters.

The true measure of approval, from a biblical standpoint, is all about doing what God requires of us.  In 2 Tim. 2:15 Paul said we are to be diligent to show ourselves approved to God by accurately handling the word of truth.  In Phil. 1:9-11 Paul’s prayer for the church in Philippi was that they would abound in “real knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

The point of scripture is that we cannot be approved unless we are obedient to God’s word.  God loves the world, but He only approves of those who obey the gospel and live faithfully in His service.  Those who belong to Him cannot approve of any attitude, action, or lifestyle that violates God’s will.  We must accept those who practice such things as the masters of their own destinies, and as citizens of our land, but our acceptance of them as individuals does not mean that we approve of their actions.  God’s word will judge us at the last day (Jn. 12:48).  Therefore, we must live so as to be approved by its standards when judgment comes.

Lest We Forget

The Memorial Day holiday was begun as a time to honor fallen Union soldiers in the aftermath of the Civil War.  Over time it came to be a day to honor all the war dead from all the wars of our nation.  From the first observance of this occasion in 1868, and continuing for about 100 years, this day was a solemn remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country.  In the last 40 years or so the original intent of this date has been lost on most people.  We routinely hear media people speaking of Memorial Day as the official beginning of the summer vacation season, with hardly a mention of the true reason for this day.  Families meet for food, and for fun and games, or they leave town for a quick get-away to any nearby recreational site.

Those who remember the real meaning of Memorial Day are saddened by the lack of respect for our war dead.  We wonder how our nation could have strayed so far from the noble intent of this day of remembrance.  The simple answer is also the most condemning to our society.  It is that we have failed to tell the story of why we have such a day on our calendar.  We have raised generations of Americans who know little of, and care even less for, the sacrifices made in past conflicts so they could live in freedom.  It is a sad indictment on our nation.

This same neglect took place long ago in the nation of Israel with regard to the Passover.  When God was about to bring Israel out of Egypt, He gave them instructions for a memorial to be held each year at a specified time so they would always remember what He had done for them.  God warned Israel not to forget what He had done (Dt. 6:12), but many centuries later Israel had long forsaken this memorial.  A young king named Josiah discovered the book of the Law, and when he read it, he tore his clothes in shame over this neglected memorial.  He re-instituted the Passover and held a feast such as had not been seen since the time of the prophet Samuel (2 Chr. 35:18).

In the church we also have a solemn memorial, given to us by the Lord Himself.  On the night of His betrayal, while He and the twelve were observing the Passover, the Lord took the unleavened bread of the Passover meal and one of the cups from the meal, and gave them to the twelve as a memorial meal to be eaten in remembrance of the sacrifice He was about to make for the sins of the world (Mt. 26:26-30).  Writing about this some years later, Paul told the church in Corinth that whenever they ate this meal they proclaimed the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26).  In the early church the Lord’s Supper was the primary purpose for their gathering each Lord’s Day, even taking precedence over a visit from Paul the apostle (Acts 20:7).

Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:23-26), and the practice of the church in Troas (Acts 20:7), show us that the apostolic church observed the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week.  It did so because this is the day the Lord came forth from the tomb (Mt. 28:1-7), and it is the day on which the church was established (Acts 2:38-47).  Therefore, those who revere the sacrifice of Christ on the cross remember Him every Lord’s Day by doing as the first Christians did, eating the unleavened bread and drinking the cup of the new covenant in His blood, declaring His death until He comes again.

May we never be guilty of neglecting the memorial of this, the greatest of sacrifices.  Let us tell and retell the story of the Lord’s sacrifice to every generation, and faithfully observe His memorial every Lord’s Day, lest we forget the great thing God has done for us.

Aim High

One of the recruiting slogans for the United States Air Force is a very simple, but powerful statement.  It is, “Aim High.”  This slogan usually appears on a poster with a stylized jet aircraft streaking upward in a vertical climb.  The Air Force is obviously playing off the fact that their job is in large measure done high in the skies.  At the same time, this slogan also reflects the higher educational standards that must be met by Air Force recruits.

The idea of aiming high is a principle that applies to every aspect of life.  In one form or another most of us have been urged to be the best we can be in everything we do.  Most of us have, in turn, urged our children, or others with whom we have influence, to be the best they can be.  Every time someone exhorts us in this way, and every time we exhort another in this way, we are telling them to aim high.

Part of the reason for aiming high is so that if we for some reason fail to reach our goal, we will at least have reached higher than if we had not set so high a goal.  For example, a student whose goal is simply to pass a course in school will not put out the same effort as a student whose goal is to get on the “A” honor roll.  With such a low aim point, any lack of success is likely to end up with a failing grade.  On the other hand, the student trying for the highest academic achievement may not successfully reach it, but he will still achieve far above many of his counterparts.

The same principle applies to our spiritual walk.  Those who are Christians are exhorted by scripture to aim high.  We have been called to a higher calling, and we can only reach that higher calling by purposely aiming for it.  Paul the apostle particularly emphasized this principle in several of his letters.  In Phil. 3:14-16 he said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.”  The “upward call of God” of which Paul spoke is our higher calling.  It is a standard that surpasses that of the world in every respect, and the apostle expected us to aim for it, just as he himself did.

In Col. 3:1 Paul again urged Christians to aim high.  He said, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”  His point is obvious.  Christians should have their focus above, where the Lord is, rather than on the earth and the things of the earth.  We cannot attain to the upward call of God in Christ if we are not aiming high; that is, if we are not focused on our Lord and on His word.

In 1 Tim. 3:13 Paul gave a practical example of what aiming high achieves.  Speaking of deacons who serve faithfully he said, “For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”  Those who aim high in spiritual things will, with God’s help, reach their goal, and they will be rewarded for it, both here in life and in eternity.

No one denies that aiming high requires extra effort in order to reach such a lofty goal.  That effort, however, is more than repaid when one aims high and reaches his goal.  God’s desire is that we aim high spiritually so He can bring us into heaven at the end of time.  Now that is a goal worth aiming for!

Thanks Mom!

“The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world.”  So goes the well-known proverb.  It is a truth that is so powerful that it has become self-evident.  The influence of mothers cannot be overstated, it is so important.  Conversely, the neglect of that influence is so powerful that it cannot go unchallenged.

We live in a world where certain basic values have been eroded by the influence of skeptics whose godless ways have made a mockery of motherhood and all it was intended by God to be.  Very often today the “hand that rocks the cradle” is a stranger, the paid hireling at the day care center.  Many children spend more time with these care givers than they do with their parents.  This ought not to be so.

Children are a gift from the Lord.  They are a sacred trust.  They are precious souls who are entrusted to parents for spiritual as well as physical nurturing.  When we bring a child into the world we begin a life that will exist throughout eternity.  The eternal destiny of that soul is largely the responsibility of the parents.  The wise man said, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).  It is our God-given duty to bring up our children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

No one is better at this than mothers.  Of course this does not excuse fathers from their required participation in this responsibility, but it is the mother who has special power to accomplish God’s purpose in this regard.  The scriptures are full of the examples of godly mothers who molded their offspring for God’s use.  From Jochebed, the mother of Moses, to Hannah, the mother of Samuel, to Eunice, the mother of Timothy, we see the influence of the hand that rocks the cradle.  We see this influence even in those cases in which the father was not as involved in the process as he should have been.

There are many in the family of God who are there in large measure because of the influence of their mothers.  I am one.  My mother made certain that I learned to love the Lord.  She did so even though my father was not a Christian until I was in my teens.  She taught me the importance of being in the assembly on the Lord’s Day.  She taught me that obedience to the Lord was the most important choice I would ever make.  She formed in me the basic attitudes toward God and His word that have sustained me to this point in my life.  She did this in spite of her own struggles as a Christian.  She was not perfect, but she was, and still is today, a child of God.

It is not enough to give life to a child.  Our society is overrun with children who have been abandoned by their mothers.  It is not enough to nurture a child physically.  All around us are well-fed children who are morally bankrupt, or well on the way to it.  We need mothers who will do whatever it takes to nurture the soul as well as the body.  We need mothers who have more concern for their children’s souls than for material possessions.  Those who act on this concern in obedience to God’s word will receive a great reward.

It is a challenge to be a godly mother.  No one would dispute this truth.  To all those mothers who have met this challenge, or are now meeting this challenge, we honor you today.  God bless you.  We love you, and we say to you, in the most heartfelt and sincere way, “Thanks Mom!”